As a photographer, I love light. And not just “perfect” golden hour light.
Instead, I try to embrace all kinds of light. I believe that every quality of light can be beautiful. Every time of day offers something unique in how the sun illuminates my subjects.
However, it took me a long time to embrace midday sun in photos. While I love a bright sunny day to enjoy the weather, the position of the sun and harsh nature of the shadows can make it tricky for photography.
What I came to realize, though, is that life happens in midday sun. In fact, some of our favorite memories happen in these light conditions. And so rather than avoiding shooting at this time, I had to start finding ways to use it to my advantage.
And you know what? I actually love to shoot in midday sun now! It’s fun! Here’s how you can fall in love with full sun photography, too.
Know the light source
To know how to use any kind of light, you need to know where the light is coming from. Knowing the direction of the light will make it so that you know where your shadows will fall and allow you to adjust your subject’s position accordingly.
In the middle of the day, it might feel like light is coming in from everywhere. However, the light is really coming from just one place. And that’s pretty close to straight overhead.
Take note of how that light affects your subject’s facial features. See how it changes when you change the way your subject holds her head or when you reposition yourself above or below. Experiment with how to use shadows for interesting shapes.
When you take the time to really understand your light source, you will better be able to control how it affects your final photographs.
Embrace the unique qualities of full sun
When shooting midday, just embrace the light full-on. Let the sun light up your subject like a big spotlight. Stop fighting the bright highlights and the deep shadows.
You may have heard that these things are undesirable. But we are not after dreamy backlit photos here! Instead, try to capture midday sun and highlight the time of day by using the light as it is.
We are not after a perfectly lit photo. Instead, we are trying to tell the story of the middle of the day. Let your colors will pop. Allow your subject to shine with the high contrast. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised by the results!
Pro tip: Have your subject close his eyes or wear sunglasses. Midday sun can be super harsh and you don’t want anyone to damage his/her vision!
Midday sun is recognizable by its bright highlights and also by its harsh shadows. And where there are shadows, there can be photographic drama.
Watch the shadows play on your subject and use them to your advantage. Find the shapes and lines created by various objects and employ them in your final images.
In the image below, my daughter was at the beach at midday.I shot this at the beach, midday. I positioned her so that her face, hands, and hair would be illuminated as those were the important parts of the story I was telling. Everything else fades in dramatic shadows, letting the details I deemed important stay front and center.
Shadows will also play on our environment. It’s fun to incorporate these into your images. Long shadows on walls and on the street are amazing ways to create mood and have fun.
Focus on the memories
Another thing I love about shooting in midday sun is that I am more present. I can relax and just shoot to catch moments as they happen.
Why is this? Well, in many shooting scenarios I spend a lot of time looking for “pretty” light. It is nice to get a break from the pressure of finding the best light and instead just focus on the memories that are unfolding.
So many special moments happen during this time of day. If you have small kids, chances are that this is when you and your family are the most active.
If there is something lovely happening, don’t worry too much about the light. Just take the shot and treasure the moment. I find that some of my favorite shots have happened this way.
The shot above of my daughter and niece was entirely unplanned. Their hair looked so fun in the wind. While I might have once shied away from taking the shot or nudged them toward open shade, in this moment I did not think about light at all. I just focused on their connection and the movement.
With practice and repetition, you will find yourself subconsciously finding how to make the light work. Instead of thinking about it, it will just happen as you observe the scene in front of you.
Embrace bolder colors
Another benefit of all that pretty light is that it enhances colors. There are no clouds diminishing vibrance and the color of the sunlight is more neutral than the warm hazy light of golden hour.
For this reason, environmental and landscape photography is great in this kind of light. I was at the lighthouse above with my family. It was quite sunny and we went up there just after lunch. The blue skies and bold shadows make the scene feel so much more three dimensional and dynamic!
Find a place to hide
At last, if you have had enough of all that light and beautiful sunshine, you can always find open shade. Open shade is the shadowed space that a large object creates: trees, buildings, overhangs, and garages are all good places to start.
If you place your subject inside the shadowed area, you are in the open shade area. Open shade is perfect to use for midday portraits. You get the benefit of the shiny light bouncing back on our subject but without all the harsh shadows of direct sunlight.
In this photo, I put my daughter just inside a door opening. It was around 3 o’clock in the afternoon in July. With clear blue skies this made for some pretty harsh direct sunlight!
By positioning her in the shade, I diffused the light. Instead of hitting her directly in the face, the light is taking a detour by first hitting the ground in front of her and then bouncing back on her face.
If you can find a spot like this you can take great portraits.
Midday is when a lot of the best moments happen. And while the light isn’t that hazy golden hour light that we all love, it can be really beautiful in its own way. So go out and embrace full sun and capture the memories that matter to you with confidence.